I LEARN AMERICA follows a year in the lives of five immigrant students who attend the International High School at Lafayette, a public school in New York City.  Lafayette enrolls over 300 students speaking two dozen languages from 50 countries. The students struggle to learn English, confront the challenges of being a teenager in high school, and adapt to families they have not lived with in years.  In I LEARN AMERICA, the five resilient immigrant teenagers come together over a school year to learn about their new homeland, “America”.

The documentary, directed and produced by filmmaker Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng, amplifies the importance of addressing the issues of immigration and education.  Jean-Michel observes, “America is made up of immigration children, the children of immigration are here to stay, and they are our future… How we fare in welcoming them will define who we are for years to come.”

One out of four children in America is child from an immigrant in family. Families that have chosen to come to America for greater opportunities. These students decide to make goals for themselves and build a future in America.

The film goes beyond the current headlines and immediate need for Congress to act. Everyday Congress has waited to pass immigration reform, is a day that millions of immigrant children have lived in fear of being torn away from their families.  The President’s recent announcement to extend deferred action to million of undocumented parents and youth will help mitigate this fear for many. Yet, the only permanent solution is for Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship.  It is also important that Congress promote legislation that improves equitable learning opportunities for English Language Learners and other immigrant students.

This film depicts the student’s struggles of wanting to live a normal life in America and a school that offers promising opportunities. Lafayette is dedicated to teaching newly arrived immigrant teenagers the complexity and diversity of life in America.

One of the film’s students, Brandon from Guatemala, newly reunited with his parents after a decade apart, struggles with turning in his school work: “My parents told me if I do not do my school work, I will have to get a job and support the bills at home.”

With the fear of getting deported back to Guatemala, Brandon contemplates dropping out of school. Then he learns President Obama has announced the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA).  The program gave him the security he needed to stay in school and work harder towards having a better life.

First Focus is a proud supporter of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Recently, we released a report entitled A Step Forward: Immigration Executive Actions and Our Nations Children, reiterating the importance of the new actions the Administration is taking to fix the immigration system. Likewise, we support efforts to support the safety, education and long-term well-being of “unaccompanied” children who have migrated to the U.S. alone. Our partner organization, the First Focus Campaign for Children, has advocated on behalf of these vulnerable youth, including writing a letter urging Congress to uphold basic protections for unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act of 2008 and ensure that all policies promote the best interests of children.

I LEARN AMERICA is heartbreaking and at other moments uplifting as the five teens open up deeply and without reserve, which is somewhat astonishing to see on camera. The stories and struggles of these five vibrant young students are truly empowering.

Follow the film on twitter @ilearnamerica or visit the Facebook page I Learn America to share the student’s stories.

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